Saturday, May 30, 2015

The 'Deep Crisis' In The 'Great Indian Education Bazaar'!

From asking students to resolve matters through ‘other means’ to convincing naive aspirants with false promises, private educational institutions have earned themselves the adage of ‘scamsters’.

Anil Sadagopal, a well-known educationist calls it the ‘Kumbhakarna-like sleep’. Even after years and years of hoarse chants from activists, policy-makers, children, youth and adults — quality education that is supposed to be a fundamental right to all, is still a dream in India. It is perhaps for this very reason that Sadagopal had demanded the Indian state to wake up from its slumber.

In the ’60s and ’70s, education as a right received minimal attention in almost all developing countries, including India. But, when UNESCO highlighted education as a prerequisite to development, a visible change began to unfold. To some, it was time to identify education as a tool to eradicate poverty. To others, the time was ripe to mint as much money as possible. Therefore, under the garb of ensuring education to all, several private players entered the education sector with promises ranging from booking seats and hassle-free admission processes to foreign trips, free laptops and even securing a degree when one fails to clear a paper.

In 2015, we have woken up from our slumber but this time, with a bigger dilemma at hand. On the one hand, scores of engineering and MBA graduates are walking around jobless, while on the other, the number of private institutions advertising ‘quality education’ has outnumbered the number of aspirants. 

The number of certified engineering and MBA graduates who appear for bank tests and other government job entrances has become huge. Being ‘placed’ is no longer a dream and instead now, it translates to BPO pay package. It is in this miserable state of affairs that some unscrupulous operators have been laughing all the way to the bank. 

Hoodwinking the gullible who seek an immediate job and a professional degree, these institutes promote themselves to be the next best centres of learning. Here is a look at a few of those that provide an easy route to a degree with the promise of a job provided you spend enough to keep them happy.

Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), New Delhi

Talk about the educational institutes offering fake degrees or making tall-but-false claims about their credentials, the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM) is probably the first thing that will come to anyone’s mind. ‘Daring to think beyond IIMs’, Arindam Chaudhuri’s IIPM was ranked as one of the top business schools of India. This was supplemented by full-page advertisements in almost all the leading publications in the country. Promotion by Bollywood stars and enticing potential students with free foreign trips and laptops were some of the other ‘unique qualities’ of IIPM.

However, when students, alumni and the UGC had exposed the IIPM for its hollowness, it became the biggest “scam” in the country’s education system. “The institute charges lakhs of rupees (say Rs 8 to 10 lakh) for an MBA degree and it is only after taking the admission that the student gets to know that they provide only certificate courses. We got convinced by the advertisements in the newspapers that clearly mentioned MBA degrees. I feel ashamed to be a part of the institute which is nothing but a scam,” rues Akash Ahuja who passed out from the IIPM in 2013. Ahuja is also facing trouble repaying the educational loan his father had taken hoping that he would get the placement from the institute.

Until the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) listed it as a fake university, everything seemed to go well with the IIPM. Since the UGC and the AICTE argued that the IIPM was not a university, they stated that the institute was not authorised to issue BBA or MBA degrees. In September 2014, when the matter reached the Delhi High Court, it barred the IIPM from offering BBA or MBA courses or advertising itself as a business school.

Earlier, various media organisations and independent journalists had carried several reports and investigations exposing the tall claims of the institute. Consequently, Arindam Chaudhuri had filed legal suits against several journalists. Since most of the reports and exposes were on the new media, Chaudhary had approached a Gwalior court ordering to block as many as 78 URLs which were critical of the institute.

To many of the alumni, the institute is nothing but a ‘money-making body that tries to suck money from students in any form.’ For instance, Deepak Vashishta, a student of the 2013 MBA batch, could not appear for some papers due to some personal reasons. However, when he enquired about reappearing for the tests, he was in for a shock. “They informed me that the fee to reappear for the written exam was Rs 2,500 per subject and that of a super viva-voce scheme was Rs 5,000 per subject. I had 10 exams to clear and I had already paid lakhs of rupees as my course fee. I know I made a mistake by not taking the exams in the first place but it doesn’t mean that they can burn another hole in my pocket,” says Vashishta. 

Another alumnus Kunal Kohli shares a similar experience where the institute attempted to extract money from him for no reason. “I had low attendance but they allowed me to sit for my exams. But, when I asked them to issue a provisional certificate, I was told to pay Rs 20,000 as penalty for low attendance. I was aghast.”

The Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM) is headquartered in New Delhi. Founded in 1973 by MK Chaudhuri, it offers undergraduate, post-graduate and doctoral programmes besides international and fellowship programmes. Though the IIPM does not hold accreditation either under the UGC or the AICTE, it is well-spread with 18 branches across India including Mumbai, Gurgaon, Noida, Bengaluru, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Pune, Lucknow, Indore, Bhubaneswar, Bhopal, Jaipur, Dehradun and Kochi. 

The Zee Business Best B-School Survey ranks the IIPM among the top 10 business schools. The total fee structure for an MBA course hovers around Rs 14 to 15 lakh, which is again subject to change.Students also complain that the entrance examination that the institute conducted was a mere formality. “I had reached 30 minutes late for my entrance exam. To my surprise, they allowed me to sit for the papers. I could not even attempt my paper completely but the next day I got a call informing me that I made it to the list,” recalls Jenson Joseph, a former student who manages his father’s business in Kerala.

Just like the institute’s flawed admission process, its placement procedure is a sham, too. Though the college has made claims of having 100 percent placement, this has been proven wrong several times in the past. While the institute recruits most of its students, they only end up working as data entry operators, sales representatives or receptionists at the institute. Furthermore, after three or four months into their job, most of the recruits are asked to leave. The employees of IIPMs have also complained in the past that they would never get their salaries on time. In one bizarre incident, Arindam Chaudhuri also allegedly abused a sales representative for not getting enough admissions when he had enquired about the delayed salaries. “I had written an email asking about our salaries, which had been delayed by four months. What followed was very embarrassing for me. 

Chaudhuri walked into the office and called me names in front of everyone. I resigned in protest,” says Rohit Mahajan, who worked with IIPM for two years. He further adds that misleading advertisements are the only reason why IIPM’s business is flourishing. “Majority of the admissions were done on the basis of advertisements. The IIPM is no different from the thousands of educational institutes which are run from temporary campuses and which dupe students. The only difference here is that IIPM manages to attract eyeballs due to its money power.”

At present, Chaudhuri is back with his new venture —IIPM 2.0. In a bid to avoid controversies, the institute has clarified that the courses offered would be certificate courses. But, a day after the launch, the UGC filed an FIR saying that the institute is “cheating” and “fooling” students as it was not recognised by any regulatory body. 

Interestingly, in IIPM’s defence, Chaudhuri compared his new venture to Modi’s ‘Make in India’ campaign. “It’s sad that on a day when we launch a new programme promoting entrepreneurship, which is the need of the hour, on the lines of our prime minister’s ‘Make in India’ dream, some sections of the media have decided to pick up a case that is six months old. Having said that, it’s nothing new,” he said in a statement.

The day IIPM 2.0 was launched, it had become the butt of Internet jokes with the Twitterati comparing it to the series of advertisements conceived by a telecom operator where anything could be made or launched overnight by anyone. Though the management guru has tried to silence the voice of the Internet earlier, this time, it seems, he has been a bit too late.

United College of Engineering and Research (UCER), Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh

Below is an edited transcript of a conversation between INNLIVE and the admission officer at the United College of Engineering and Research (UCER), Greater Noida.

INNLIVE: Apne bhai ke admission ke liye aaye hain. (I have come for my brother’s admission).

UCER STAFF: Kisme admission chahiye? (Which branch do you want the admission for?)

INNLIVE: Computer Science branch.

UCER STAFF : Total 120 seats hai jisme 8 percent management quota ka hota hai. (There are a total of 120 seats, out of which 8 percent comes under management quota).

INNLIVE: College ki ranking ke bare mein thoda batayein? (Tell me something about the college ranking.)

UCER STAFF : Magazine or website wale survey karne aate hain. Bahut saari cheezein hain. Government koi institute launch karta hai to sab ko pata chal jaata hai. Par private ko mehnat karni padti hai. Ab ranking ke baare mein kaise khul ke bataon, paisa chalta hai. Par ranking ka kya karna hai aapko? (People from magazines and websites come for the survey. It involves many things. If the government starts an institute, everyone comes to know about it but private institutes have to put extra effort. How can I speak about ranking openly? Money is involved. Then again, what will you do with ranking?)

Around 7,000 students appeared for the screening test conducted by the Medical Council of India (MCI) in 2014, with only 4 percent successful. The test conducted by the MCI is necessary for students who study medicine abroad to be able to start practice in India. Going to a foreign university is often less taxing on the pocket, and thus an option many students resort to. Each of these students are estimated to have spent around Rs 25 lakh each (amounting to Rs 175 crore) to study abroad. In the last five years, 35,000 students have passed out from foreign universities, spending around Rs 1,000 crore but only 1400 of these have passed the screening test of the MCI.

“The officials in MCI show an indifferent attitude towards the students who have passed out from the foreign universities,” says Jacob, an MBBS doctor. After spending almost Rs 25 lakh for his graduation from an MCI certified medical college in China, he worked in a 4500-bed hospital (AIIMS has only 1560 beds) and has also learned a few extra subjects like cell biology, dentistry and research (going beyond the subjects listed in the Indian MBBS syllabus). Despite this, after returning from China in 2012, Jacob had to spend Rs 3 lakh in preparations for the MCI qualification examination. 

He passed the exam only in 2014 (his fourth attempt) and was able to start practicing.Jacob’s story is just one of many. On the one hand, India faces a shortage of health workers, and on the other there are thousands of foreign medical graduate doctors who are willing yet unable to work in India.

Fuelling the surge in such cases are career guidance agencies who sugarcoat the experience of studying abroad. Furnishing wrong information about proposed universities, they leave students in a tight spot. After paying a hefty amount and completing their medical studies, students return to India only to find their subjects are not recognised by the MCI. Agencies aware of the challenges posed by the MCI, invariably, hush up the issue until the payment is made.

The Foreign Dilemma
Getting a degree from abroad still poses challenges for Indian students from the lack of will among authorities to evaluate and certify their degrees. Even when foreign universities easily issue certificates and related documents for students to continue their studies worldwide, Indian counterparts do not budge an inch, putting the future of thousands in the lurch.

After completing her graduation from Kerala, Ganga (name changed) was approached by Wings International Agency to pursue her post-graduation from London. After few weeks of deliberations on her options, she decided to go abroad incurring a cost of Rs 8 lakh. On returning to India, she applied for research studies in JNU. The first thing that the administration officer asked for was an equivalent certificate from AIU (Association of Indian Universities). Accordingly, Ganga went to AIU to obtain an equivalent certificate which was promptly denied.

Telling her that the degree was not recognised, the AIU staff asked Ganga to visit the specific department’s administrative section. On making enquiries at the department, the officers retorted saying, “Repeat your post-graduation here. Who told you to go outside and study? Nothing can be done. Please leave.”

The relationship between rankings and universities is fascinating in itself. While most government institutes and colleges have a protocol of issuing an advertisement calling for applications for admissions, private players utilise the ‘ranks’ accorded to them by many mainstream publications. Using such ‘antics’, institutions often lure students who might not have made the cut in premier educational institutions. 

Therefore, when INNLIVE mentioned that the student seeking admission could fail in the entrance test of the college, the UCER staff insisted that they could find a way out. 

He also mentioned how they have successfully provided jobs to students with an average score of 50 percent.

Though placements are often seen as ‘the desired outcome’ of joining an engineering college, more often than not, they stand as empty promises. For instance, as per the information provided by the UCER staff himself, out of 120 students, only 36 students get placed in a year. So, what happens to the remaining students who have paid a whooping fee of Rs 1,95,000 a year?

If UCER uses a ‘ranking system’ to hoodwink students, elsewhere, at IEC College of Engineering in Greater Noida, seats for any engineering branch are reserved or booked with payment of a minimal amount of Rs 10,000. The rest of the fee can be paid through the course of the studies. Further, the ‘booking fee’ also makes the student eligible to join the classes at any point even if it is months after the commencement of the academic session.

According to Vishal Kumar (name changed), a first year student of mechanical engineering at IEC, the college is a disappointment. “Don’t take admission in this college. There are better institutes than this one. And, there is hardly any placement,” he says. On quizzing him about what made him opt for this institute, he replies, “I read about the ranking of the institute in a website. It also mentioned a decent placement record. But, the reality is different.” Similar were the views shared by Anoop (name changed), who came all the way from Varanasi to take admission at IEC. 

“They call themselves the best engineering college in Uttar Pradesh but there is hardly any placement. We are stuck in this institute now.”

United College of Engineering & Research was set up in 1998 under the aegis of the United Group. It has two branches with one in Allahabad and the other in Greater Noida. Both the colleges are affiliated to Uttar Pradesh Technical University and approved by AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education). Out of the courses it offers, popular are Computer Science, Electronics and Communication, Information Technology and Mechanical Engineering. Additionally, the institute’s placement cell includes top-notch recruiters such as Infosys, Oracle, Indian Army, HCL, Bosch and India Infoline.

IEC College of Engineering and Technology (IECCET) is an engineering college located in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. It was established in 1999. Besides being affiliated to Uttar Pradesh Technical University, it is also recognised by AICTE and PCI. This institute was already offering MCA degree and a Bachelors of Technology in seven branches, namely Civil Engineering, Computer Science & Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Electronics and Communication, Electronics Instrumentation, Mechanical Engineering and Information Technology, and now it also offers MBA and MTech degrees.

IEC has made its name for imparting engineering education and promoting technological research. Its fee structure for engineering courses is Rs 1,17,950 per year and for MBA it is Rs 98,150 approximately.

Sharda University Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh
Exploitation in the name of education is the easiest to get away with. After the “cream” of the youth of the country going into colleges such as IITs and IIMs, the “average” student is usually left with no other option. It is during this sad state of affairs that students come across an advertisement celebrating a private university or college as the premier institute in the country.

“The world is here, where are you?” asks the advertisement of Sharda University. Admissions at Sharda are provided as long as the student appears for the Sharda University Admission Test (SUAT) for the engineering, law and MBA courses or if they have appeared for their equivalent national entrance exams. Further, the eligibility criterion for the entrance test is a score of 60 percent marks for the 12th standard board exams. Maitreyi Mahobia (name changed), a BBA LLB student at the university says, “The entrance tests and interviews are just a formality. All they ask for are the ranks of the national level entrance tests if they have appeared for it.” In other words, appearing for the entrance tests alone can ensure one a seat at Sharda. When one doesn’t appear for suat, any rank acquired in a national entrance test would suffice. 

With a rank close to 5,000 in the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), Maitreyi secured admission at Sharda with just a telephonic interview. Despite this, the university is ranked as one of the top 30 universities providing quality education in India.

Sharda University is one of the most recognised universities in Uttar Pradesh. Set up in 1996, the campus is spread over 180 acres of land and has branches in Agra, Mathura and Greater Noida, boasting over 1,200 faculty members. The UGC registered the institution as a university following Section 2(f) of UGC Act 1956 and lets it award degrees under Section 22 of UGC Act 1956. While the organisation is funded as a state university, it notes the lack of affiliation to the AICTE after the UGC approval.

The university has a wide range of graduate and post-graduate courses under technology, management studies, dental studies, engineering, design, computer applications, law, and foreign languages. The fees for BTech courses is around an average of Rs 1,50,000 while MTech costs about Rs 1 lakh. MBA goes up to Rs 4,25,000 while an MCA comes for Rs 1,26,000.

Talking to Sharda University’s Kolkata admission cell, INNLIVE was told that the SUAT, touted to be the ‘most exhaustive online test’ is a mere formality: “If you have not cleared SUAT and have scored 60 percent and above in your board exams, that should ensure that the student has enough ‘knowledge’ to clear the exams,” says a Sharda University official.

Meanwhile, the university is at present readying itself for the admission season. With over eight lakh students clearing the board exams this year, it seems that the university is in for more engineering aspirants.

Private engineering colleges derecognised
In a major setback to private engineering colleges in Chhattisgarh, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has cancelled the recognition of 38 well-known institutes in the state. All the de-recognised colleges are affiliated to Chhattisgarh Swami Vivekananda Technical University (CSVTU), Bhilai. After the AICTE’s decision, admissions will not be held for the session 2015-16 in colleges listed below.

Forty private engineering colleges of Chhattisgarh had applied for recognition from the AICTE for the ensuing session of which 38 were handed Letters of Rejection (LoRs). AICTE has not yet clarified the reason for the cancellation.

The working committee of AICTE held a meeting in New Delhi in April to discuss recognition of private engineering colleges for the new session. After assessment, the quality of education in these institutes was found to be below par. They lacked trained teaching staff and were mostly run under the supervision of guest lecturers. 

They also lacked infrastructure as most of these colleges had just one building.Chhattisgarh Swami Vivekananda Technical University (CSVTU) had complained to AICTE against the private colleges affiliated to it. In the complaint, CSVTU mentioned that the colleges provided differing information to AICTE and the University on the same points during inspection. It also pointed out various lacunae in the institutes. 

The AICTE as well as the CSVTU had earlier approved the request of these de-recognised colleges to open new branches and increase the number of seats during the session 2014-15. However, the appeal had been rejected by the then Chancellor of the university.

Commenting upon the issue, the registrar of CSVTU, Gesul Ram Sahu, says that they have received information about the cancellation of recognition of colleges but no directives have been issued. Private engineering colleges refused to comment on the matter.

The derecognised colleges
1. Ashoka Institute of Technology and Management, Rajnandgaon
2. Bharti College of Engineering and Technology, Durg
3. Bhilai Institute of Technology, Durg
4. Bhilai Institute of Technology, Raipur
5. Central College of Engineering and Management, Raipur
6. Central Institute of Technology, Raipur
7. Chhattisgarh Engineering College, Durg
8. Chhattisgarh Institute of Management and Technology, Bhilai
9. Chhattisgarh Institute of Technology, Rajnandgaon
10. Chhatrapati Shivaji Institute of Technology, Durg
11. Chouksey Engineering College, Bilaspur
12. Christian College of Engineering and Technology, Durg
13. Columbia Institute of Engineering and Technology, Raipur
14. Disha Institute of Management and Technology, Raipur
15. Garv Institute of Management & Technology, Purai, Durg
16. GD Rungta College of Engineering & Technology, Bhilai
17. JK Institute of Engineering, Bilaspur
18. Kruti Institute of Engineering and Technology, Raipur
19. Lakhmi Chand Institute of Technology, Bilaspur
20. MM College of Technology, Arang, Raipur
21. Parthivi College of Engineering and Management, Bhilai
22. Pragati College of Engineering & Management, Raipur
23. Professional Institute of Engineering and Technology, Raipur
24. Raipur Institute of Technology, Raipur
25. RSR Rungta College of Engineering and Technology, Bhilai
26. Rungta College of Engineering, Nandanvan, Raipur
27. Rungta College of Engineering and Technology, Kohka, Bhilai
28. Rungta College of Engineering and Technology, Nandanvan, Raipur
29. Shri Rawatpura Sarkar Institute of Technology, Raipur
30. Shri Rawatpura Sarkar Institute of Technology-II, Raipur
31. Shri Rawatpura Sarkar Institute, Kumhari
32. Shri Shankaracharya Institute of Professional Management & Technology, Raipur
33. Shri Shankaracharya Technical Campus (SSGI), Junwani
34. Shri Shankaracharya Technical Campus (SSITM), Junwani, Bhilai
35. Shri Shankaracharya Technical Campus (SSGI), Junwani, Bhilai
36. Shri Shankaracharya Institute of Engineering & Technology, Durg
37. Sun Engineering College, Durg
38. Yugantar Institute of Technology and Management, Rajnandgaon

Shobhit University Meerut, Uttar Pradesh
Built on a sprawling campus located in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, the Shobhit University claims to be one of the finest universities in the country. Going by the description of the university provided on the website and advertisements elsewhere, only competitive students can secure admission here. 

However, what is being practised at the university is a different story altogether.When INNLIVE approached Yogesh Avasthi, a professor at Shobhit University who is incharge of admissions and asked him about what options could one have for not being able to give the entrance exam of the university, he said that there were many other ways to go about it at Shobhit—one of them being a direct interview and/or writing an entrance exam exclusively at a later date. Awasthi also claimed that the university was a Central University. 

This is clearly false as the university is only a deemed university, that is, one which is given special status by the Ministry of Human Resource Department to impart degrees under its supervision. Furthermore, when inquired about the attendance required to clear the papers, INNLIVE was told that 75 percent was necessary but after a bit of bargaining, Avasthi says, “Thoda aap chaliye, thoda hum chalenge, sab manage ho jayega. (You do your bit, I will do my bit and all will be managed.)”

Shobhit University becoming functional in the year 1996 at Meerut, Delhi NCR, was ranked first a decade later among the country’s top deemed varsities. The Indian government’s notification number F-9-37/2004-U.3 (A) dated 8 November 2006, under section 3 of the University Grants Commission Act, notes the varsity’s excellence in emerging areas of technology. The fees structure for the MTech, MCA and MBA ranges between Rs 70,000 and Rs 80,000 per annum. For MSc and MCom courses, it rises to Rs 30,000 per annum. The University further secured a top rank among the first 50 universities by The Pioneer, a well-known daily.

Later, INNLIVE was assured by Avasthi that if the students sit for all the exams and report to college whenever called for, they would not fail. “No one fails,” assures Avasthi.

According to UGC rules, universities are not allowed to establish centres outside their state and offer courses under distance education. But a simple Google search will show that Shobhit University has been flouting norms as dozens of such centres run in Delhi. As a result, degrees through distance education mode can be obtained through such centres.

A student of the University, who wanted to stay anonymous, says, “We are extremely uncertain about our future. We took admission through advertisements published in major dailies, the placement record of the University is not good and former students are still roaming around unemployed.”

Meanwhile in Bengaluru, Karnataka, a ‘seat blocking scam’ worth Rs 100 crore, involving engineering and medical students, has come to light, where 39 alleged impersonators have been arrested so far. The scam was unearthed in the popular competitive exam COMEDK (Consortium of Medical, Engineering, Dental Colleges of Karnataka). More than 1,20,000 students appear for the exam every year.

Modus Operandi
Touts and agents first identify potential but ‘vulnerable’ students. Most of these students manage to crack the exam and appear year after year by faking their mark sheets. These students cannot afford to pay fees in a private college so they offer to help the touts in exchange of money ranging from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh. When the students clear the exam and earn a seat, they surrender it to the college just before admissions close. 

The college then turns the available seat into management quota to demand a huge sum as ‘donation’ — ranging from Rs 5 lakh to even Rs 1 crore for a seat. The scam has shaken the students who burn the midnight oil to get a seat at the college of their choice. “We put so much pressure on students to study because an entry to a college can make or break their life, but because of such cases, many careers are at stake. Education system, mainly the higher education in India, has become too corrupt,” says Deepak Koparde, father of an engineering aspirant Supriya.

Four of those arrested are agents who have also appeared for the exams earlier. 

However, the mastermind of the scam is still at large. Investigators also suspect involvement of some people from the state’s top colleges. None from the COMEDK office was willing to comment on the issue. The higher education ministry of Karnataka says it is monitoring investigations and when results are out on 4 June, more skeletons could roll out.

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